Africa’s oldest dinosaur discovered in Zimbabwe

Scientists in Zimbabwe announced Thursday the discovery of the remains of Africa’s oldest dinosaur, which roamed the earth some 230 million years ago.

The dinosaur, named Mbiresaurus raathi, was only about a meter tall, with a long tail and weighed up to 30 kg, according to the international team of paleontologists who made the discovery.

“It ran on two legs and had a rather small head,” Christopher Griffin, the scientist who discovered the first bone, told AFP on Thursday.

It is probably an omnivore that fed on plants, small animals, and insects. According to Griffin, a 31-year-old Yale University researcher, the dinosaur belongs to the sauropodomorph species, the same lineage that later included giant long-necked dinosaurs.

The skeleton was found during two expeditions in 2017 and 2019 by a group of researchers from Zimbabwe, Zambia and the United States.

“I dug up the entire femur and realized it was a dinosaur, and I had the oldest known dinosaur fossil from Africa,” said Griffin, who was then a graduate student at Virginia Tech.

His team’s findings were first published in the journal Nature on Wednesday.

The remains of dinosaurs of the same era were previously found only in South America and India.

Paleontologists chose Zimbabwe to excavate, calculating that when all the continents were connected into a single land mass known as Pangea, it was at about the same latitude as earlier discoveries made in North America.

“Mbiresaurus raathi is remarkably similar to some dinosaurs of the same age found in Brazil and Argentina, supporting the fact that South America and Africa were part of a continuous landmass,” said Max Langer of the University of São Paulo in Brazil.

The dinosaur is named after the Mbire region of northeastern Zimbabwe where the skeleton was found and paleontologist Michael Raat, who first reported fossils from the area.

Other specimens have been found in the area, all of which are kept at the Zimbabwe Museum of Natural History in Bulawayo, the country’s second largest city.

“The discovery of Mbiresaurus is exciting and special for Zimbabwe and the entire paleontological field,” said museum curator Michel Zondo.

“The fact that the Mbiresaur skeleton is almost complete makes it an ideal reference for further discoveries,” he added.

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